”DEFEND WALSALL YOUTH CENTRES’ – says Unite

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Birmingham youth defending youth centres – they are under attack nationally
Birmingham youth defending youth centres – they are under attack nationally

PLANS to shut nearly every Walsall youth centre will leave thousands of the town’s young people with nowhere to go, Unite has warned in a letter to the top chief.

Unite, which represents the council’s youth workers, has written to the leader of the council, Sean Coughlan urging him to halt the slashing of the youth budget in two, by axing more than £1 million over two years. 

Unite said: ‘The planned 48 per cent cut to the council’s youth service budget will see youth clubs closed, dozens of youth workers sacked and spell the end of universal youth services open and accessible to all Walsall’s young people. 

‘Unite is calling for urgent talks to safeguard the future of Walsall’s youth service by securing a commitment to ringfence funding and the protection of qualified youth workers.’

Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, Unite national officer for youth, community and playworkers, said: ‘These cuts will rip the heart out of services that thousands of young people depend on.

‘Now is not the time to sacrifice Walsall’s youth service, on the contrary we need to invest in young people. Over 3,000 young people responded to the council’s recent consultation with 74 per cent calling for no youth service budget cuts.

‘But rather than listen the council is ploughing ahead with its destructive cuts agenda. The very future of Walsall’s youth service is at stake.

‘The planned 48 per cent cut in council funding will destroy Walsall’s youth services, leading to the closure of nearly every youth club.’

The proposed £1m youth service cuts are part of a total £86m, that Walsall Council intends to cut from many services.

487 jobs are threatened and libraries and children’s centres are also threatened with closure.

Under the plans revealed at a press conference at Walsall Council House, eight of Walsall’s 16 libraries will close, 12 children’s centres will also shut, as well as Walsall Museum.

Other cost cutting measures include bin collections becoming fortnightly instead of weekly, charges being introduced for green waste collections.

Around £900,000 less will be spent on maintaining parks and green spaces in the borough.

Council leader Sean Coughlan said it was the biggest budget cuts he had ever seen at the council.

He said: ‘These are the most horrific budget cuts this council has ever faced.

‘There will be closures of children’s centres, a reduction in youth services and we will be reducing the number of libraries. We are having to redesign services.

‘There won’t be a service area that does not feel some pain from this. This has been a really difficult day.’

This year, £21 million was slashed from Walsall Council’s budget. In near-by Birmingham, an estimated 1,100 jobs are threatened with being lost as part of the package of £72 million cuts announced by Birmingham City Council.

The largest share, although no firm numbers exist, will be in what are traditionally seen as the back office areas of finance, property services and corporate services where £9 million is being saved from an £82 million budget.

These are just the first wave of a planned 6,000 job losses from the council’s 13,000 strong workforce expected by 2018.

Staff in care services, community libraries and other services may find their jobs transferred to external operators.

The Unison and GMB unions representing the staff have laid the blame on the government, but vowed to defend workers faced with compulsory redundancy.

The GMB’s Gill Whittaker added: ‘As well as expressing anger at the impact this will have on GMB members jobs, the GMB is anxious about the impact that these budget reductions leading to cuts in services will have on the residents of Birmingham.’

Even the award winning Library of Birmingham is not immune to cuts. After being shortlisted for the Stirling Prize for Architecture, the Library of Birmingham won the vote for the most popular building in the shortlist. 

It was a tremendous accolade for the Library and for the city to be considered for this top prize for architecture. However the new Library is now facing the biggest cuts of all.

The £188 million library is to have its hours slashed by almost half and about 100 of the Library’s 188 staff axed just a year after opening.

The public will now only have access to the celebrated facility for 40 hours a week – 33 hours less than previous provided, with fears that the building could be shut down for whole days at a time.

Labour council bosses pointed out that the Library costs a massive £10 million a year to run. And this is on top of £12 million a year repayments on the loan the council took out to build it in the first place. The £22 million annual costs are more than the city’s entire economic development and planning budget.

Cabinet member for culture Councillor Penny Holbrook said: ‘It is with a heavy heart that we go out to consultation on budget cuts for the Library of Birmingham, that could impact on opening hours, staffing numbers and the variety of services offered.

‘We are proud of the building and the warm welcome it has received locally, nationally and internationally since opening in September 2013.

‘However, the financial position of the library leaves us with no other feasible option but to put forward these proposals.

‘There is a huge burden of debt on the library service, so we have to stop doing some things. But core functions of the library such as archives, research, literacy and loans will be maintained.’

The council also announced that community libraries are at risk, although details of which will close or be contracted out will be settled during the ‘consultation’.

The level of cuts would also have been much higher but for a refinancing of the council’s debt to put off repayments for 20 years, leaving an extra £58 million in the kitty, plus a further £37 million being drawn from a reserve pot.

While some accounting changes around school building investment and PFI payments will save £12 million. But after four years of what is known as ‘salami slicing’ of services to meet budget cuts, the council is now looking at actively stopping services – starting with those which may be picked up by community organisations or the market.

Council leader Sir Albert Bore issued a further warning for the years ahead: ‘The cuts we have envisaged for 16/17 and 17/18 will be greater.’